Oral hygiene instructions for special needs patients

Oral hygiene is an integral and inseparable component of overall health. Yet the dental care for disabled adults, as well as that of patients with special needs or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) is significantly compromised.

Research shows that individuals with IDD have considerably higher levels of plaque, as well as poorer oral hygiene compared to the general population. They were also reported to have higher prevalence and severity of periodontal disease and greater levels of unattended caries than the general population.

Some of the problems they face include:

  • Difficulty getting into the surgery or dental chair
  • Becoming over-anxious at the thought of getting a dental checkup
  • The need for extra care or precautions during examination and procedures

People with special needs may require specific dental care to accommodate their individual needs as discussed below:

Oral hygiene instructions for special needs patients

Dental care for people with special needs

Here are a few tips to help improve the oral health of individuals with special needs:

Find a dental provider with specialized training

  • Find a dental provider who has experience in treating patients with special needs. They may have specialized training and equipment to make dental visits more comfortable and efficient.
  • Communicate with them about any specific needs or accommodations that the patient may require. This may include scheduling longer appointments or providing sensory accommodations, such as sunglasses or headphones.
  • Choose a provider that offers sedation or anesthesia for patients with special needs, since this may be necessary for patients who tend to be fearful or uncooperative during dental procedures.
  • Incorporate positive reinforcement and social stories to help prepare the patient for dental visits. This may help to alleviate anxiety and promote cooperation during the appointment.

Scheduling Appointments

  • Schedule dental appointments in the mornings for those who tire easily or patients who are over-anxious.
  • For those who find it hard to get to surgery, special arrangements should be made for dental treatment at special health centers, perhaps under general anesthetic or sedation, or home visits.
  • For patients who need specialist care, the dentist/doctor should write a referral letter (indicating the patient’s medical history, concerns and anxieties of the patient, need for an interpreter, and medications they’re currently taking) and send it together with any x-rays and hospital letters so the dental team has an idea of the patient’s dental history.

Practice good oral hygiene at home

  • Caregivers should assist patients with brushing and flossing, as needed. If the patient has difficulty with manual dexterity, adaptive devices such as an electric toothbrush or floss holder may be helpful.
  • For individuals with problems moving their arms or hands, a toothbrush with soft to medium bristles and small to medium head size is recommended so they can reach all mouth areas to clean effectively.
  • When using manual toothbrushes, get some special handgrips or other adaptations to make them easier to hold.
  • Sometimes people with mobility problems can be encouraged to brush by using electric or “power” toothbrushes.

Reduce Sugar Intake

  • Children with learning disabilities should maintain a low-sugar diet since they’re more likely to face problems like tooth decay due to medications and challenges with brushing.
  • Children with IDD should only consume sugary foods and drinks or carbonated drinks at mealtimes, and in moderation.
  • For patients who need medication to ensure their condition stays under control, they should ask their doctor to prescribe sugar-free medicines – especially for syrups.

Regular dental visits

Finally, it is recommended that all individuals with special needs or IDD visit their dentist on a regular basis. Every six months should be ok, but the frequency may be more often or less often depending on your dental needs – this should be determined by your dentist.

Try to make dental visits a regular part of the patient’s routine. Consistent dental care can help prevent dental problems and maintain good oral health.

While at the dentist’s office, the patient and caregiver can benefit from other services offered including:

  • Advice on how to keep your mouth clean and healthy
  • Advising you on how to brush effectively
  • Recommending a visit to the dental hygienist for tartar and plaque removal
  • Advising care givers on how to take good dental care of others

Also try to stay informed about any medications or medical conditions that may impact oral health, and communicate with the dental provider about any changes in the patient’s health.

Dental care for disabled adults

Dental care for disabled adults can also be challenging, as they often face physical, cognitive, or sensory impairments that make routine dental care difficult. However, maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial for their overall health and well-being.

Here are some tips for dental care for disabled adults:

  • Look for dentists who have experience treating patients with disabilities and who have specialized equipment or facilities to accommodate their needs.
  • Use adaptive aids to help people with disabilities maintain good oral hygiene, such as electric toothbrushes, floss holders, and swabs.
  • Encourage disabled adults to practice good oral hygiene habits, including brushing their teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. They may need assistance with brushing and flossing, or may require adaptive aids to help them perform these tasks independently.
  • Use fluoride treatments to help prevent tooth decay. This is particularly important for people with disabilities who may have difficulty brushing and flossing.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of dental problems, such as toothaches, bleeding gums, or bad breath, and address them promptly by seeking dental care.
  • If a disabled adult has difficulty sitting still or has anxiety about dental procedures, sedation dentistry may be an option to help them relax and receive the necessary treatment.
  • Eating a healthy diet can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. So encourage disabled adults to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

By following these tips, disabled adults can maintain good oral hygiene and prevent dental problems. It is important to consult with a dental professional who can provide tailored recommendations based on their specific needs.

Final thoughts

Overall, dental care for people with special needs and disabled adults may require additional planning and accommodations, but with the right approach, it can be a positive and effective experience. Consult with a dental professional who can provide tailored recommendations based on the individual’s specific needs. And make sure to schedule short but regular appointments to establish trust between the patient and dental team.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

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